Days Gone By - Memories of the changing face of Ipswich Dock

Ipswich Docks from the air in June 1971. The University of Suffolk building now stands where the Eas

Ipswich Docks from the air in June 1971. The University of Suffolk building now stands where the Eastern Counties Farmers silo was on Neptune Quay. Picture: David Kindred/Archant

We recently featured photographs of Ransomes Sims and Jefferies Orwell Works, Ipswich, and readers have responded with memories of their time there and have added names to those in the photographs featured.

Ransomes Sims and Jefferies made trolly buses, which were used to transport visitors to the 1934 Roy

Ransomes Sims and Jefferies made trolly buses, which were used to transport visitors to the 1934 Royal Show, held where the Chantry housing estate, Ipswich, is today

The history of Ransomes Sims and Jefferies goes back to 1789 when Robert Ransome started his business as an iron founder in Ipswich.

The photograph above illustrates how the Ipswich Dock (now The Waterfront) area has changed since Ransomes moved to the edge of town on Nacton Road, with a move completed in the late 1960s. The area around Duke Street is mostly now a mixture of residential, restaurants and university use. Most of the large workshops featured were part of Ransomes Sims and Jefferies.

Names have been added to the photographs of Ransomes apprentices and instructor taken in 1963.

Neville Raynment

Neville Raynment

Tony Jennings, of Capel St Mary, said: “The person giving instruction to a young lad was my father Cyril Jennings. For many years up to his retirement he was apprentice training superintendent. He worked for Ransomes for over 50 years and was awarded the BEM in 1978 for services to industry.”

Mick Cousins added: “I was very interested in the Rs and J apprentice photos. I can name three boys featured. The one on the lathe with Cyril Jennings, who looked after the apprentices, is me aged 18. The boy with glasses on the milling machine is Michael Piggot and the lad measuring is Neville Rayment.”

Meanwhile, John Wilson, added: “I worked for Ransomes Sims and Jefferies from 1949 until my retirement in May 1997. I was very interested to read your article and enjoyed the pictures. Many of the pictures were before my time at Ransomes, however I am familiar with a number of the pictures, in particular as the last few trolley buses were being manufactured by the company when I first joined Ransomes.

Cyril Jennings with Mick Cousins at Ransomes in 1963

Cyril Jennings with Mick Cousins at Ransomes in 1963

Most Read

Included in the pictures was Cyril Jennings, he was the Manager of the Training Department responsible for the apprenticeship scheme and all the apprentices coming to the company for training.”

And Neville Rayment, added: “One of the apprentices is of me. The photograph was taken in the Lawn Mower Works tool room at Fore Hamlet. I started work at R.S.J. on January 4,1960 and retired September 8, 2009, completing almost 50 years at that company, as did my father. From the tool room I progressed to the drawing office, jig & tool d.o., cnc machine programmer, and a few years managing the machine shop at the Nacton Works before returning to programming the cnc machines until my retirement.

Although I recognise some of the faces I cannot name them apart from Cyril Jennings, the Apprentice Training Superintendent.”

Michael Piggot

Michael Piggot

Marion Warne added: “The photograph of the gentleman ploughing with the two horses could very well be my dad, he used to work on the land, if this photograph was taken on Bucks Hall, Rishangles, the year would be right as well. His name was Fred Hayward, we lived in a little stone flint cottage by the farm which has since been pulled down and re built.

“He isn’t around now for me to confirm this, but I would be grateful if anybody has more information.”

Rod Cross, who is a regular correspondent, added: “Orwell Works played a big part in my father’s life. Walter Cross was an employee of Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies all his working life and worked at the Duke Street factory from leaving school in 1924 till the firm relocated to Nacton Road in the late 1960s.

A pair of Suffolks with a Ransomes plough around 1930. Picture: Titshall Brothers of Ipswich

A pair of Suffolks with a Ransomes plough around 1930. Picture: Titshall Brothers of Ipswich

“Just before he left school the GPO offered him a job. However, my father was brought up by his grandparents and wanted to work beside his grandfather Arthur, a coppersmith at Ransomes. In fact, my father initially served as his grandfather’s apprentice.

He then worked in the stores in E Department (the ‘E’, I only recently discovered, standing for Electrical and Trucks) before becoming a lathe operator.

“For a time during the recession of the 1930s he was stood off, but he was grateful to be re-employed and didn’t take as much as a day off work for as long as I can remember.

Demolition works on the Ransomes Sims and Jefferies site at Ipswich Dock in 1968.Picture: David Kind

Demolition works on the Ransomes Sims and Jefferies site at Ipswich Dock in 1968.Picture: David Kindred/Archant

“By today’s standards, his working day was arduous. At 7.15 a.m. the plaintive wail of ‘the bull’ would be the signal for him to pull on his work boots, pick up his thermos flask and begin the walk down Back Hamlet. He’d pick up a News Chronicle at Hanks Newsagents, which was almost opposite the factory gates and be ready to start work at 7.30 a.m. A five hour shift then followed with just a 10 minute mid-morning break to drink his tea and glance through his newspaper.

“At 12.30 p.m. he’d climb back up Back Hamlet hill and after a cooked dinner, leave for work again just before ‘the bull’ sounded at 1.20 p.m. Ten minutes later he and his fellow workers would be back at their work-benches and machines to put in four more hours with just a short mid-afternoon break.

“Leaving off time was 5.30 pm, but my father frequently worked overtime. He was allowed a 15 minute unpaid break and then worked a further hour and a half, for which he was paid ‘time and a third’. He then climbed Back Hamlet for the second time that day, arriving home at 7.30pm – over 12 hours since he had first left that morning.

“Most Saturdays during the football season he’d also work till mid-day, before washing and changing and making his way to Portman Road to watch Ipswich Town or their reserve team. It was the one highlight in what, on reflection, seemed a very dour working life.

“Yet I never heard my father complain. He derived a quiet satisfaction from what he did and though he often talked about working to within ‘a thou of an inch’, his job carried little pressure and was pretty much routine.

Once a year I’d accompany him to what amounted to the Orwell Works Open Evening. I’d trace the route he’d trodden thousands of times and visit the cavernous workshops where he spent so much of his working life.

“I was immediately struck by that all-pervading smell of oil and hot metal and the echoing sound of metal being coerced into shape by the tools and machines operated by the skeleton staff still working. To me at the time, familiar only with the safe environment of the classroom, it appeared soulless and stark, even a little sinister.

“I’m sure that during the day-time it was a vibrant, even an exciting place to work. One would have felt a sense of teamwork and no doubt, there was considerable camaraderie amongst the men. Maybe there had to be for they were working long hours at seemingly monotonous tasks in a somewhat outdated factory.

“When Ransomes moved up to Nacton, the facilities and working environment made Orwell Works appear quite Dickensian, not surprising as the factory was well over 100 years old when it closed.

However it had served its purpose, providing employment for generations of men and contributing to the town’s economy. Ransomes, Sims and Jefferies were fair and honorable employers and my father was quite content working there. I’m not so sure I would have been!!

• Do you remember when Ipswich Dock looked like this? Share your memories via email

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter